Improving the Understanding of Political Legitimacy in COIN Doctrine
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An interview with MIT Professor Roger D. Petersen.
The “U.S. in the Lead” COIN approach usually fails where security force assistance could succeed.
While COIN remains the convention, to varying degrees, in post-conflict and steady-state operations, rule of law will be an essential part of the US security mission.
When Afghanistan failed, then COIN was seen as having failed too, having proved itself too risky, too time-consuming to justify its extraordinary investment in lives and treasure.
For COIN, a trinity of attributes is needed to complement traditional military acumen: analytical intelligence, openness of mind, and broad culture.
There is a danger in the empirical mode of reasoning that it will lead us to think of a thousand locals or twenty counterinsurgents as homogenous units of human being.
Pop-centric COIN - where from and where to?
#1: Context and nuance: Focus changes on updating and improving the understanding of insurgency itself. This will put current content into a more appropriate context and nuance in general, and address the primary shortfall of the current manual. All lessons learned on COIN are corrupted by the policies and purposes of the times they occur in, but provide insights into strategic understanding.
#2: Define for success: Defining key terms with an eye toward criteria that lend themselves to similar approaches for solving the problem. Purpose for action and relationships between parties are key. Move away from definitions based on degree of violence, type of ideology, or status of parties.
#3: COIN is a domestic operation: Limit COIN to domestic operations (unless dealing with resistance following the military defeat of some state with the intent to bring it under US governance). Casting support of someone else’s COIN as FID promotes proper roles and the enhancement of legitimacy.
#4: Types of Insurgency matter: It is critical to clarify the unique aspects of the three broad categories of insurgency (Revolution, Separatism, and Resistance). Insurgencies range from war to civil emergency and often occur in a blend of types, or morph over time. No single COIN approach works for all, but blended, evolving approaches tailored for each can be very effective (and in many ways occurred during “the surge” in Iraq, but not during “the surge” in Afghanistan, with predictable results). The blend of perceptions of US physical and policy “presence” driving resistance against the US among populaces also feeling internal revolutionary motivations toward their own governments is central to the past 20 years of turmoil. Al-Qaeda conducts UW to leverage this energy and cannot exist without it.
#5: Conditions of Insurgency: Recognize the underlying conditions of insurgency that exist in every society, how to relieve such pressure through good governance, and the critical distinction between natural stability and the artificial stability achieved through state security forces. This facilitate better prevention, greater civil responsibility, more appropriate military roles, and less operational surprise.
#6: Human Nature: Appreciate how universal and timeless human nature is, and those aspects most important for understanding the strategic context of any insurgency. These are constants in the human domain that provide keys for solving complex, adaptive problems between people and governance.
#7: Ideology & Narrative: Clarifying the role of ideology; the role of social media (and info tech in general); and narratives. These are essential tools to initiate and facilitate action, but are not causal.
#8: Sanctuary: Shifting the focus on “Sanctuary” from terrain to being more about legal status and popular support. Deny enabling status and popular support, particularly for regional groups like AQ.
#9: Causation: Recognize that causation primarily radiates out from government, and that it is the perspective of the recipient individuals and populace groups that matter, not governmental intent.
#10: “Winning”: Not preserving some regime or defeating some threat, but expanding the percentage of the total populace that perceives governance works to support their reasonable ambitions.
SWJ Editor Peter J. Munson discusses advising, COIN, Iraq, and disruptive thinking with Owen West, author of "The Snake Eaters."